How Claire Foy cracked the Duchess of Argyll up in a very British scandal


In the new series A very British scandalStreaming now on Prime Video, Claire Foy plays Margaret Campbell, the late Duchess of Argyll whose real-life 1963 divorce – and accompanying eye-opening trial – shocked Britain, and even today, for decades. later and in a much less strict social context. manners, makes very compelling television.

For Foy, who played the queen on The crown as well as many highly fictionalized characters, this was not a role to be taken lightly. Here she tells GTC why the disgraced Duchess was an attractive choice and how she came to portray one of England’s most infamous women.

What first attracted you to this series?

Initially, I was like, “Oh, no. I don’t want to play someone who’s fancy.” That was my original thought. And I was like, “I don’t think I can do this, really.” And then I read it and I was like, “Oh, she’s still great.” And then I met Anne Sewitsky, who’s the director, and she wanted to do something really interesting and dark. And then I discovered that she was thinking of Paul Bettany to play [Campbell’s husband] Ian, and I thought that would be an interesting and exciting thing to do. I was really interested in the story of a woman’s sexuality and how she expresses it and how it is perceived from the outside.

Paul Bettany and Claire Foy as the Duke and Duchess of Argyll in A very British scandalstreaming now on Prime Video.

Christopher Raphael

There’s also something so interesting about the scandals that shocked previous generations and might not play out the same way today.

I think it can give you that separation, but can also show that we haven’t really changed much, really. If you’re wondering how you judge people in the public eye or how you judge politicians when there’s salacious gossip about them…judgment, unfortunately, is part of our character. Do we treat people differently? Or do we all still love drama and mess and gossip and say, “Oh, I would never do that.”

How much do you research the real story of a character like this before playing her?

There are certainly a lot of books. I mean, there are so many people who were really fascinated by her, like Sarah Phelps, who wrote this screenplay. There are people she has fascinated for years and years, and that means thankfully there are quite a few books written about her, but you have to take them with a pinch of salt because they all have a diary and an opinion of who she was. Also, I wouldn’t say she was a pathological liar, but she was one of those people who lied more freely than she told the truth in a way, and so she fabricated her own story a lot. I listened to tapes of her – I was very lucky to get interviews for her ghost-written book – and I got access to a lot of important things to read and understand. Then it puts you in a position, when you play the scenes, to give yourself artistic license to interpret the material for the audience.

a very british scandal season 1 episode 103
Claire Foy is no stranger to playing historical figures. Previously, she played Queen Elizabeth on The crown.

NICK WALL

Is there something different for you about playing characters based on real people and fictional characters? Is there another type of liability?

Everything is the same, really. I think when you pay someone [real], there is actual factual evidence about them that makes your job slightly easier because you have things to hang your hat on, and you know you can’t stray too far from that. There’s a huge responsibility when you’re portraying human emotion, because you want to connect with the audience and if you’re portraying something they’ve been through or they’ve been through and you’re doing it wrong, or you’re done without any real humanity or sincerity, then they won’t appreciate it. So I feel a lot of responsibility and kind of pressure to make sure I’m truthful and honest.

There are also all the delicious trappings of a period play: the sets, the costumes! Is there anything that makes you feel like you really entered his world?

It was nice to be glamorous for a change. I spent quite a bit of time not wearing makeup on screen, so it was nice to be able to. But for me, the most exciting thing was being with Paul and doing those scenes. My favorite thing to do – and I don’t know what that says about me – is to portray the character unobserved, either in their own home or with the idea that the camera isn’t there and that person is just living their life and that it is filmed. It’s my favorite thing to do with my time.

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How do you and Paul create this chemistry between two people who have a magnetism but then are pretty awful for each other?

Because it was a very short pre-production process and then a very short shoot, we actually did a lot of that ourselves. We had to do a lot of the deciding on how we both approached a scene, and that was an amazing thing. We had such a connection and understanding from the start that we had to go through this together, and we needed each other to do this and do it as well as possible. We each knew we had this support from the start, we just had each other’s backs.

There was A very English scandal, on Jeremy Thorpe, and now A very British scandal. Are there any other scandals you would like to see made into limited series?

I’m already involved in what I find interesting, which is the foundation of social media and Facebook [in the upcoming series Doomsday Machine] and how this whole beast works. I’m really fascinated by that. It is for me an exciting thing, because it is the history of our time.

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